Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Breakfast Baking: Cinnamon Swirl Bread

The abominable weather in the Northeast is really derailing my sewing posts - it's been impossible to photograph anything. My blue welt pocket trousers are finished, and the Craft Lounge is currently covered in a light layer of fluff from the ongoing construction of my faux fur cape. But you'll have to settle for more baking on this frigid day.

Without realizing it, I seem to have shifted the focus of my baking from dessert to breakfast this month.  I suppose it's because of my previously mentioned recuperation from holiday indulgences. Whatever the case, I'm really enjoying breakfast lately.

One of my goals is to become a better bread baker. I'm fine, just not proficient. I just don't have a long enough bread baking history to have experience on my side. So, when I was thinking about another tasty, somewhat sweet but not extravagant breakfast item to bake, I landed on Cinnamon Swirl Bread.

Naturally, I turned to King Arthur Flour. This recipe is one that also appears in their Baker's Companion Cookbook, which is my go-to cookbook for baking.

This is a yeast raised bread, and the blocks of time when you are letting the dough rise, rise again, bake and cool are perfect for sewing. And, oh my gosh, I don't think the house has ever smelled quite as amazing as when this was in the oven. Cinnamon overload! 

The very helpful thing that I learned about bread with this loaf is about doneness. Most yeast risen loaves are done when the internal temperature reaches 190F. I like tricks that eliminate guess work.

Cinnamon swirls!

Look at how swirly it came out! I'm really happy with how it looks and tastes. Toasted with a little butter or served with a schmear of peanut butter or nutella, this bread is exactly what I wanted. It's delicious and not terribly sweet, but still feels like a treat. My only change to future loaves may be to add some raisins to the dough instead of just to the swirl.

Do you multitask when you have a whole day free to sew, bake or whatever other hobbies you enjoy?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sewing Thoughts on a Winter Weekend

Perhaps it's the weather or lack of daylight, but every year at this time, I seem to have angst about my sewing plans for the next year. In theory, I like a plan. In practice, I like the freedom to follow my bliss.

However, I do have a few goals this year in addition to continuing a steady diet of frosting. The first is to do more drafting - specifically a bodice and sleeve. The second is rather vague and summed up by the word "execute", which sounds rather dire. What I mean is that the sewists that I seem to admire most truly execute their projects well, using really good - and practiced -  techniques combined with patient sewing. Whatever they sew, it's always well thought out and neatly accomplished with fewer "oops!" moments than is my norm.

With those goals in mind, here are a few inspirations - some are inspired by patterns or fabrics that I have in stash and others by styles I've seen. I'm sure that some will get sewn and others will fall by the wayside. But right now, this is what is occupying my sewing imagination.

Ewok Fur Cape
OK, I'm pretty sure this will be sewn next, since the fabric (here), lining and pattern are out and waiting to be cut this afternoon. I even bought a button.

V8959 Very Easy Vogue

Is it me or has it been an excellent few years for all sorts of jacket and coat patterns? Here are some that are currently fighting for attention in my brain.

BurdaStyle 02/2014 - #114 and 115:

This is a somewhat "French style" jacket that I could potentially get down with. Look at all awesome deets! I would love to sew this with leather shoulders.

Alexander McQueen Kimono Jacket:

This has been on my "to sew" list for some time. I could throw this on with jeans for play or trousers or a skirt for work. What am I waiting for?

Ralph Pink Cocoon Coat:
I've been wanting to try more indies and bought this pattern in the fall. It would be a fabulous transitional coat, don't you think? Or with satin lapels could be perfect for occasions.

Lastly, Burdastyle 09/2012 - #120 Bolero

I actually wear RTW shrugs a lot and I love the pleating at the elbow. What a fun little detail.

Some days, I want to drop everything and sew an army of sheath dresses to dominate my entire wardrobe. These two have been on my "to sew" list forever!

I know, every single other sewist has already sewn this!
Other days I want an army of body con but comfy knit dresses. I really enjoyed improving my knit sewing skills this past year.

LtoR: Temperley London, Ralph Lauren, Selena Gomez wearing??,  Emilio Pucci

And then there are days when I think I should morph a trend into my own style. For example, Clio does the shirt dress:
L'Wren Scott
Seriously, this L'Wren Scott number is exactly how I would do a shirt dress. And this Marfy pattern would be the perfect jumping off point for it, don't you think? Besides, I've been wanting to try Marfy.

Ok, this one is going to sound kinda weird: I want to sew myself a diaper bag. No, I'm not expecting. It's just that I've sewn 6 diaper bags for friends - all of them fun and not diaper bag-ish, and each one better than the last.

Bag Envy!
So, it's about time I made myself a weekender or travel bag. And why not go with a pattern that I really like and can execute well and that really doesn't look like a diaper bag. Right?

OK, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I've also had a couture style cami on my "to sew" list for about a year now. In fact, I've muslined it and am not really sure what it is I'm waiting for. In addition, my last several projects have made me think that separates are the way to go. I could happily sew more trousers, tops and skirts.

And that is my round up at the moment. But I ask: how's a gal to choose with so much inspiration? Actually, what often happens is that I have all these patterns floating in my head until the moment I see the perfect fabric, and that becomes the next project.  How do you decided on your projects?

Wishing you a happy sewing weekend!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter White Booties on a Snowy Day

It seems like a good day to tell you about my last un-blogged knitting project from the end of the year.

After my run of bad luck with knitting patterns, I got back into the swing of things with these booties, knit from leftover aran weight yarn from the CrissCross Applesauce baby blanket.

I like having cosy feet on the couch, but floors are tough on hand knit socks. However, these were so quick and easy to knit that, if they spring a hole, I can quickly and easily knit a new pair. 

The pattern is DROPS 125-15 by DROPS Design - short socks with cables. It's a free pattern, and very simple - a great beginner sock. The only thing at all tricky was the format of the instructions. They are written in a bit of a run-on paragraph rather than in clear points. However, they are correct, so it just took a little patience and re-reading to find my place again whenever I was ready for a next step. I barely needed to glance at the instructions for the second bootie.

A simple bootie with cable work down the middle

Even the cable work down the front center was a breeze.  You could easily replace this cable pattern with any other little 9 stitch cable or lace pattern and make an infinite variety of booties. I have enough of this yarn left that it's likely that another pair is in my near future.

And now I have warm cosy feet on a snowy day.

I hope all those in the snowy and cold Northeast are hunkered down with a warm tea or cocoa and some knitting or sewing today!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Finished: Two Socks, Two Weeks! And Thoughts on Socks

So, a week or so after I actually finished them, here are my finished basic socks:


I thought I might find knitting plain socks rather boring, but I didn't. The pace at which I was able to speed along made it fun and rewarding. Really, I think two weeks is very doable for me. And now I have another pair in my sock drawer. 

I'm a sock monster at heart. The whole reason I learned to knit was to make socks.  Learning that I also love knitting stuffies (and occasionally other things, too) was an unexpected and happy discovery. But socks was always the goal.

Anyway, these basic socks are the 10th pair that I've knit in two years - 7 for me and 3 for others. So, while I still have a lot to learn and some refining of technique to do, I think I've really zoned in on what works for me in broad terms.

Here are some lessons learned (and I stress that this is what works for me, and may be different for others):

Yarn is everything.  
While I love the feel of cashmere socks, they are fragile. These socks probably took 70 hours because of the complicated lace and cable pattern and sprung a hole in just 3 months. Considering how densely these were knit (80 stitches per round on a size 1 (2.25mm) needle!!), it's pretty shocking.

So beautiful! So fragile.
I also have one pair of socks that felted after repeat washings and now won't fit over my heel. Across all ten socks, the ones that have held up best were all knit with Knit Picks Stroll sock yarn, proving that cost and durability are not always directly related. Stroll is a 75% superwash merino wool, 25% nylon blend. (Happily, Dragon the Hippo is also knit from Stroll. Hooray for that!)

I'm eager to see how the Toshsock, which is 100% superwash merino, that I used for these holds up. Oddly, I find it similar Stroll in how dense the stitches are and also in how it feels - the hand, if knitters use that sewing term. There are also some other yarns I have heard good things about and plan to try - Lang Jawoll and Regia 4-ply Sock. I'm sure that exploring sock yarns will be an ongoing journey for me.

Lots of techniques work
Toe up or cuff down, magic loop or dpn's, all different toes and heels... there are a lot of ways to make socks! For now, the method I outlined in my simple sock recipe is the one that plays to my strengths, that I enjoy knitting and that seems to hold up best on my socks. But I've successfully employed lots of other methods and pretty much all have given me good results. So, I plan to continue to develop my personal pattern. I suspect that in 20 years or 100 more pairs of socks, I may have a perfect-for-me pattern and technique figured out.

More socks, More quickly
My first year of sock knitting was characterized by a progression of ever more complicated patterns. In year two, I made increasingly more simple socks as the year progressed.  I reach for my hand knit socks first - they are most worn because of their comfort and warmth and because I love to wear what I make. Right now, I don't have enough. So, in year three, I hope to rapidly add to their numbers by finding patterns that aren't quite as taxing as 70 hour cable and lace socks, but still have some interest. And I think I want to play with colorwork a bit more, too. 

Anyway, I'm really happy with these nice cosy comfy socks. Thanks to K-line for organizing the sock-along. It was fun to stop and think about my sock knitting and start the year with new socks!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

His and Hers Muffins

I like chocolate in just about everything baked.  Really, doesn't a handful of dark chocolate chips enhance just about every cookie, muffin and sweet bread?

I think so. Phin, well, not so much.  But I have a solution for muffins: His and Hers.

Heavenly Healthy Banana Muffins

Last week, I decided to make KAF's Heavenly Healthy Banana Bread as muffins. Only, I like banana bread/muffins with chips, and Phin prefers without.

Aside: did you know that you can make just about any quick bread (ie: breads leavened with baking powder or soda rather than yeast) into muffins? You can. A quick bread recipe that is supposed to be baked in an 8 1/2" or 9" loaf pan will make about 1 dozen muffins. Just bake for about 25 minutes and test for doneness. So, if you have a favorite pumpkin or cranberry bread or apple walnut loaf, go for it.

Back to my muffins. To please both of us, I made the batter according to the recipe and filled half the muffin tin using turquoise cupcake liners. Then I added a handful of chocolate chips and filled the other half of the tin using orange cupcake liners. 

Hers on the left and His on the right.

Different liners makes it easy to tell whose is whose, and we both get our muffins exactly how we like them.

The muffins came out really tasty. I'm usually suspicious of "healthy" recipes since they are often made with low/no fat or low carb products or are artificially sweetened. I simply do not eat these sorts of engineered foods. Real food and everything in moderation is my general eating philosophy, and this recipe delivers that - whole grain, modestly sweetened, healthy nuts and loads of banana flavor even without the added flavoring. It's good for this time of year when I have the urge to bake but, after so many holiday indulgences, want to exercise a bit of restraint. I even used buckwheat honey, which has a very dark molasses flavor and a wealth of antioxidants and other health-boosting properties.

Do you have any easy baking tricks like my his and hers muffins?  Do you have favorite recipes for when you want something warm and delicious out of the oven that isn't such an indulgence? Please share!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welt Pockets - Like a Boss, Peeps!

Sorry the color is so off. It's really cobalt.

I'm trying to be all smug and cool about my awesome welt pocket. But, really, I'm all happy dance, happy dance, happy dance!!  (Note to self: Add "get's giddy over a perfect welt pocket" to the you-might-be-a-sewing-geek-if list.)

If you're thinking that one welt pocket is a small accomplishment and could have come out nicely just by fluke chance, just check out my other two, which are vertical.

These need a little pressing.

Three nearly perfect welt pockets!

Understand that sewing a double welt pocket is, to date, the only sewing task or technique that I've found to be exactly as scary and challenging as I thought it would be. More, actually. So how'd I do it without having either magic or the force at my disposal?  My secret weapon: Kenneth King and his Designing Details: Pockets Craftsy class.

Designing Details: Pockets

I know I sounds like a broken record, but I can really wrap my brain around the way he teaches and his techniques. I find his methods to be precise, clear and understandable. What's more is that it actually is a bit different from any other method I've seen or tried, and I've tried several. The class goes through drafting and installing patch pockets, single welts, shaped single welts, double welts and double welts with a zipper inside. I'm tempted to find a jacket pattern with welt pockets just so I can do a zippered welt.

Again, this pocked did not come together by magic. I actually spent two afternoons watching and rewatching and sewing muslin pockets. Not all were successful. Here's a smattering of the fails for your amusement:

The one where the welts overlapped

The one where the welts didn't meet and all the corners puckered

The one where my tiny stitches perforated the muslin and it ripped. And the welts overlapped.

 And my personal favorite fail:

The one where I sewed the pocket bag in upside down so my pocket defied gravity
 But then...

Almost there!

...things started getting better. And after several good pockets in a row, each better than the last and some sewn vertically, I was ready to go.

Like a boss
Of course, the lesson is that practicing technique is important.  I made pockets until I could do it without fuss and without having to go thru the instructions step-by-step. So, expect my trousers and a full viewing of the top in the near future.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Finished: Medusa Cowl

Here's a little project I knit for myself as I recovered from my epic four-fail weekend.

It's the Medusa Cowl from Ruby Submarine. Ruby Submarine patterns have a decidedly oceanic bent to them without being kitschy or hitting you over the head with a motif. I really love how tentacle-y this pattern is; inspired by the Medusa jellyfish, no doubt.

It was a really quick and easy knit - exactly what I needed after a frustrating weekend. Medusa is knit in the round, basically in bands of stockinette stitch which are separated by areas where you bind off and then cast back on in the next row to create the loopy, holey affect. A few intersections where you don't bind off or cast on keep your scarf in one piece, and the stockinette makes it curl into tentacles with the purled side showing.


Here's one of the intersections where you knit a few stitches in between tentacles.

You can wear it any number of ways - looped a few times, draped across the shoulders or down the back. I really love how drapey and somewhat amorphous it is. I'm not really sure that "scarf" is really the right word to use for it.  
This view makes me think of seaweed

The pattern is knit with bulky yarn on large (US 13) needles to give it an extra drapey, loose feel. I'm really pleased with the yarn I used. It's Ella Rae Lace Merino Chunky, which is a 100% merino, in a blue green colorway. I couldn't resist picking seaweed or Caribbean blue hues for this cowl.  I was unfamiliar with the yarn until my LYS suggested it for this project. I have to say, it's unbelievably soft. This is definitely the kind of yarn you'd like to have next to your face. 

Gauge is somewhat irrelevant for a project like this, but mine was a little tighter than the suggested 2.75 stitches per inch, clocking it at about 3st/inch. So, my Medusa came out a bit short. I think my yarn was perhaps slightly thin for a bulky. However, I think the needle size was right for this yarn and project. The stitches look so pretty IMHO and I don't think would look better if they were any looser. So, overall, I'm really happy with the end results and I've been wearing this cowl pretty non stop, both outdoors as a scarf and indoors as an additional warm layer and pop of color over a top. 

A few questions for you other knitters:  When you are knitting a project like this, do you even bother to check the gauge or do you just go by whether things look good as you knit?  Also, I haven't actually blocked this cowl. Would you? To be frank, I'm not the most knowledgeable about blocking and I'm not sure how I would or what shape I should block it into. Does it matter? 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Frosting Diet: 2013 Recap!

Can you believe that it was one whole year ago that I put myself on a Frosting Diet?  How time flies when you are sewing awesome and fun things!

Here's what I sewed in 2013.

2013 Sewing Round Up!

Um, perhaps I need to learn a few new poses for 2014.

So, how did I do with the basic tenets I set out as part of the Frosting Diet?

Well, I sewed with a variety of awesome fabrics, I sewed exactly what I wanted, letting my mojo guide me, and I didn't sew basics. As far as going the extra mile with interesting details, techniques and finishes, I think I nailed it. In fact, I really challenged myself this year.

I stretched myself

Some of the interesting details, challenging techniques and a few new-to-me things I tried this year:
I also worked on using my serger more and using it smarter, particularly on my knit projects. And I ended the year spending the better part of two days working on welt pockets. Really, I think I infused most of my projects with great details and techniques that challenged me.

I also think I aced taking some fashion risks, especially near the end of the year.


and yep.

And I definitely sewed some luxury items.

And that's the 2013 round up!

Just to be clear, I don't view this as a one year project that's over. I was really happy with all of my sewing this year - with my fabric choices, with what I sewed, and with all the things I learned. I feel like I really laid the ground work for future frosting. And look at some of the fabrics that I look forward to sewing up.

My Hot Sauce Haul

Ewok Fur

I did a huge amount of learning - new and better techniques, more patient sewing, using hardware and hand sewing where it was best used. I also learned that I am at the point where I am ready to learn and do more drafting.

One of the things I liked best about this year is that I spent a lot of time in the company of other sewists! It really made me want to up my game. You learn so much just from being around others, don't you think?  

Anyway, they say that the right diet for you is the one you can stick to for life. For me it looks like it's Frosting Forever! Happy sewing in 2014, everyone!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Two Socks, One Week: Um, Yeah.

I've been a bit lazy posting all of my knitting projects in the last few weeks. I have two 2013 finished projects and a sock. Really, it's the photography that holds things up. But here is the sock.

One Lonely Sock

I'm following along K-line's Two Socks, One Week knit along as best I can. At this point, I should be finished with my second sock, but I'm really just a few inches into it.  I'm ok with this. I'm not a fast knitter to begin with and my wrists ached for a few days after I tried to catch up by knitting for hours on New Year's Day. It also didn't help that I decided that the first sock was coming out too big and started over with smaller needles after I had already knit 3 or 4 inches of sock.

Toshsock yarn in Envy colorway.

Anyway, I am undaunted. And I decided to use this KAL to write down my own master sock "recipe", which is really just the best parts of all the different socks I've knit, plagiarized and grafted into one frankenpattern. Here it is in pdf form:

Basic Socks a la Clio (appropriated from better-than-me knitters)***

A few notes on my method: Knitting from the Toe Up with magic loop
I like knitting socks bottom up. There are 3 main reasons. First, I'm never 100% happy with kitchner stitch or any of the toe closures that seem to leave a bump at the end. Knitting toe up seems to create the smoothest, least bump prone toe, at least in my hands. Second, I perpetually worry about running out of yarn. I never have, but if you knit toe up and run out, well, you just make a shorter sock at the ankle. If you knit top down, well, you end up without a toe. Third, I like to try on as I go, and toe up is pretty fool-proof in the try on and judge the fit department.  So, essentially, I'm knitting the opposite way from the KAL. Really, there is no right way, only a right for you way.

As for magic loop, I just prefer it, even though I'm comfortable with DPN's thanks to all the stuffed animals I knit this year. Part of the reason is that socks are a great take along project that I do on my commute, and I like that it is impossible to drop or lose circular needles, unlike DPN's. I used a US2 (2.75mm) needle for these socks. My favorite needles in general are Addi Turbos. However, the Addi size 2 is 3mm, which proved to be too big. Since I knit a lot of socks, I actually have 4 sizes of very small needles ranging from 2 to 3mm. In all seriousness, that quarter mm actually does make a difference in the end. 

And here's just a few in progress shots...

Under side of sock with grippy ribs

I like to add an inch or two of rib to the bottom at the arch to help the sock grip my foot.

Eye of Partridge Heel

For the heel, I like the diamond pattern of the Eye of Partridge stitch pattern. I also think it is sturdier.

And there you have it. Simple socks. I may do another pair of 'almost as simple' socks but just with a bit of colorwork incorporated into them.We'll see.

Either way, I hope to finish posting my 2013 projects this week so I can get on to 2014!

*** Wow, there is already an errata! I should have added that I start my heel gusset at 6 1/2", but you should start it about 3 inches short of your foot. I usually wear a size 9 1/2-10 shoe and have a medium foot circumference.